Baseball Hall of Fame Voting Now More About Ethics Than Players’ On-Field Accolades

Barry BondsThe National Baseball Hall of Fame voting process officially has nothing to do with baseball.

While sifting through the ballots, one of which inexplicably left off Greg Maddux, it became clearer than ever that we’ve reached a point where baseball accolades are secondary. Enshrinement in Cooperstown no longer is about Cy Youngs, MVPs or Gold Gloves. Each ballot instead hinges on each voter’s ethical code.

Some voters brush aside any performance-enhancing drug suspicions. Others vote only for players without distinct PED ties or implement some logic to determine which players benefited from PED use. Some extremists just throw out entire eras as a form of moral retribution.

Cooperstown is becoming a destination reserved only for those who lived up to the majority’s moral standards. In other words, the Hall of Fame voting process is as much about determining which players were believable in their claims of purity as it is about determining the best players ever. Frankly, the whole thing is garbage.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) can no longer harmoniously vote based solely on each player’s baseball resume, so voters will fill out their ballots each year and immediately defend themselves. Batting averages, on-base percentages and ERAs will be mentioned within the arguments, but the overriding question — the question that every voter must ask himself or herself before checking off a single box — is how to approach steroid suspicions. It’s a question that doesn’t have a single, correct answer, yet it’s a question that will forever plague the voting process. Cooperstown is suffering because of it.

MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick left Maddux off his ballot and voted only for Jack Morris because he won’t vote for anyone who played “during the period of PED use.” That would be fine if the Steroid Era was some finite period or if we knew exactly who used and who didn’t. But it isn’t, and we don’t. It’s simply impossible to say with 100 percent certainty that any player didn’t use steroids, just as it’s impossible to say with 100 percent certainty that any player did use steroids without a positive drug test or an admission of guilt.

There isn’t a baseball argument in this world not based on PED suspicions that could keep Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens out of Cooperstown, yet on Wednesday neither had his name called for the second straight year. 2015 could be the same story unless certain voters let Bonds, Clemens and others out of some self-imposed purgatory.

While I wholeheartedly disagree with Gurnick’s logic, it’s not him that I’m upset with. His voting tactics simply are a product of what the process has become: an autonomy in which each voter must develop his or her own voting system. Admittedly, there might not be a good alternative to the current process. But that doesn’t make the situation suck any less.

The most discouraging aspect of the whole Hall of Fame debacle is how wide-ranging the ballots can be because of the varying opinions — based on reasons beyond on-field performance — about which players should and shouldn’t be considered for enshrinement. Gurnick would only vote for a single player — a pitcher with a career 3.90 ERA — while ESPN’s Jayson Stark noted in a recent column that he would have considered voting for 19 players if there wasn’t a 10-player voting limit. The discrepancy between each writer’s voting habits is due to differing ethical views, not anything baseball-related.

Each voter is being asked to draw his or her own lines. The road to Cooperstown looks more like a game of Chutes and Ladders than a path to immortality.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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